OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The only reason Matt Birk brought his aching knees and battered body to training camp for a 15th NFL season was to get to the Super Bowl.
Birk, 36, was bothered by neck, elbow and knee injuries during his previous three years with the Ravens, yet he never missed a start. During the offseason, the six-time Pro Bowl center underwent surgery to repair varicose veins in his legs.
Still, Birk knew Baltimore had a shot at a championship, and he wanted to be a part of it.
"At this stage in my career, losing takes a lot out of you," Birk said. "I wouldn't have come back if I didn't think there was a legitimate chance that I could help the team."
Birk, safety Ed Reed and guard Bobbie Williams head a list of longtime veterans who will make their first Super Bowl appearance when the Ravens face the San Francisco 49ers on Feb. 3.
"It means a lot for all the guys to have an opportunity to be a part of that," coach John Harbaugh said. "To be able to be involved with that as a leader is a huge thing. It makes you feel really good, and now you try to make the most of it."
Birk endured 11 fruitless years in Minnesota, reaching the playoffs five times without a conference title. Then, after joining the Ravens as a free agent in 2009, he was part of three more playoff runs that ended short of the Super Bowl.
Now, Birk is poised to be part of the NFL's biggest game.
"It's great, obviously," he said. "That's the goal. That's your dream. That's why you play."
Maybe Birk deserved it, after everything he went through his first 14 years. But he exudes no such feeling of entitlement.
"Nobody deserves it more than anybody else. It doesn't matter how long you play," he said. "To be doing it with this team and just, I think, the closeness of this team and kind of the journey that we have been through my four years here — every year getting close and getting close — to finally break through, it's pretty special."
Reed, 34, has earned nine Pro Bowl invitations in 11 years with Baltimore and has long been recognized as one of the finest free safeties in the game.
And as a bonus, his first Super Bowl appearance will be in his home state of Louisiana.
"It's been a long time coming, but it takes time," Reed said. "We've built up to this point."
The Ravens failed to win the AFC title game in 2008 and 2012 under Harbaugh before finally breaking through.
SLIDE APOLOGY: Reed said that Patriots QB Tom Brady apologized to him for a feet-up slide during Sunday's AFC Championship Game, in which Baltimore beat New England. Reed told espnboston.com that Brady texted him, then he called Brady.